Waking Up In Paris: An Interview with Sonia Choquette
Author Sonia Choquette talks to Claire Gillman about her new book, Waking Up in Paris and about the lessons a complete life-change taught her…
Claire: Despite the entertaining adventures in the book, the reasons you found yourself in Paris were anything but fun. What is the overall message that you want people to take from this book. It’s not exactly a travelogue, is it? It’s more than that.
Sonia: I believe, Claire, from my own experience and also in my role as an intuitive counselor and teacher for so long that, inevitably, at some point in all of our lives as human beings, we’re going to be met with some experience of unexpected and maybe unwanted change.
And while from an ego point of view, we can look at this as, “Why is this happening to me? This is so unfair,” on the soul level, we can look at it from a place of “Well, this is happening because there must be some opportunity here for my soul to grow” and maybe even to reflect upon the fact that maybe who we’ve settled upon being, maybe we’ve outgrown, and there’s more to us than what life is asking if we keep things in the status quo.
So, I think the message is that life changes. And it can be a very difficult journey and changes can be very, very painful. It’s what you’re going to do with it and what you allow yourself to do and who you allow yourself to be and become. That really is the most important element of dealing with change on any level.
Claire: Many women find themselves in the role that you were playing for so much of your life which is being in service to others, your family, your friends. It’s actually quite a scary place when you find yourself suddenly having to practice some self-love or to discover this other aspect of yourself. It actually takes about two years before you really find your authentic self. So, what do you say to women who recognize this situation but don’t have an impetus to change it necessarily?
Sonia: Well, I believe that we all need to have compassion for ourselves. I certainly think anybody over 40 has been groomed to be a caretaker from the first breath. There are so many layers and levels that even though on a conscious level, even on a spiritual level, we say, “I want to be who I am,” there’s been so many threads of who I am defined by who I love and what I do for others that it took a while for me to peel those layers off and find what was left.
In my case, my soul chose these grand adventures. But in my devotion as sort of a guide maybe for other women, it’s like you don’t have to move to Paris. But I encourage you to give yourselves an opportunity to move to a more authentic place within. And that would be facilitated by allowing yourself to let go of the structures and the attachments that you’ve created that may end up becoming a prison and boxing within.
I had a teacher once say, “Never assume you know anyone including yourself.” And I just love that.
So, I’d say to women—because I really think especially this is a book for women and especially with the “me too” movement of like, “Okay, I’m not going to be victimized. But where am I holding myself back from being truly free.” And it’s more than a thought, more than an idea. It’s a process and a sloppy one. So, let’s be realistic about it. Let’s not pressure ourselves to perform our transformations as neatly as every other thing we’ve been pressured to do. Let them be sloppy. Let them be what they are.
Claire: Actually, knowing the people we look up to and the people who advise us are also afraid and as vulnerable as the rest of us. It’s very empowering I think.
Sonia: Well, I do know my peers, and I do know who’s in the spiritual realm as teachers. And I know them as not having any less challenges than I have had when the curtain is pulled back. I just always live my life pretty transparently as part of who I am. So, this felt right to share because it was the truth.
I definitely live from a very visceral heart-based responsive place. And I’ve had a few face plants in the process for sure. But it’s okay because if I could, in sharing my experience, encourage other women and other people, men too, to say, “Look, let’s not settle for life didn’t turn out, and now I’m going to suffer,” and let’s not settle for, “I have to stay being who I had so tried to become”—
We can always never know who we are. I’m not the same person I was when I moved there.
Claire: You recognize that there are some things that you need in order to be who you are, to be your authentic self, and one of the things in your case was grounding.
Sonia: It was interesting because I also realized what other people give me that perhaps I didn’t appreciate, whatever else happened in my marriage where we didn’t quite collaborate, I was given grounding. And that grounding, once pulled out from underneath me, I had to find a new internal grounding. And that was really important, but it was a very difficult process. I feel I’ve achieved it. Even though I’m still not outwardly grounded – I don’t have a home I own – I have a sense of me that’s grounded in me that doesn’t depend on external relationships now to create that. So, I think my future relationships will be also more authentic and free because I won’t be using people to compensate.
Claire: Do you think that if you hadn’t had the traumatic events that triggered these things, you would have had the courage to recognize that you weren’t living as authentically as you could?
Sonia: I don’t think so, Claire. I mean I was always striving to live more authentically. I was always struggling. But at no point was I willing to give up what I had created. And it was an interesting thing if you look at the trajectory. Even preceding my divorce and leaving for Paris, my father, my brother, my husband—three major male archetypes—removed from my life, and I was left with just me alone without the male’s support. And I really realized that we’re all a blend of male and female internally, and there were elements of my inner self that needed to be developed.
In fact, I think I’m completely done with the caretaking impulse. I can love freely and compassionately and generously, but it’s not a “Let me take care of you” impulse. I feel that that’s one thing that I’ve gained from all of this is that my relationships have no unconscious agendas now. And I do feel I love more openly and authentically and fearlessly because of it.
Claire: We all have, as you say, masculine and feminine aspects. But perhaps as empaths and people who are intuitive, we tend to rely very much on our feminine elements more.
Sonia: I really relied on my feminine elements through my whole life. It was my masculine elements I had to develop.
It definitely was a soul appointment for sure so that I could be grounded and strong and decisive and take care of myself in a way that I was so good at doing for others.
So, I had to learn it. I’m grateful. The whole thing was painful, but exciting. I was alive.
The one thing I’ll say about making this move that I loved the most in spite of all the trauma, I wasn’t in my head. I couldn’t afford to be. I had to be absolutely present every day and every moment in the moment.
Claire: That’s quite liberating, isn’t it?
Sonia: It trained me to be very conscious and very present. I couldn’t indulge in a whole lot — maybe before I went to sleep at night, I would wax and wane. But usually, throughout the conscious day, I had to be front and centre, just starting from the ground up — getting my food, learning the language, finding how to get my laundry done. I mean it was such an insistent process of being present that I have to laugh at the universe and say, “Well done!”
We spiritual people can talk about that, and even have some facsimile of that and think, “I got it!” But it wasn’t like what my actual experience brought out in me. I really got it.
Claire: So, even though we’ve understood on a certain level—you’ve talked about my higher self understanding or all of this stuff—but actually, it doesn’t change how, on an emotional human level we might feel?
Sonia: On an emotional level, it’s the human journey is—we can’t bypass it. I don’t care how spiritual you are. And I really don’t think spirituality is there to help us bypass it. It’s to help us walk through it.
And I think that a lot of people get confused about that. It’s like, “If you’re spiritual, how can you suffer this?” as if being spiritual would somehow make me exempt from the human vulnerabilities, the human temporariness, the human struggle.
No spiritual ideology, no spiritual perspective can protect you from life. We’re human. We’re temporary. We’re vulnerable. We’re here to grow.
So, it’s like I said, I’m very, very intuitive for other people. Really, truly, it’s a skill of mine that’s very, very developed. But for myself, it was like being intuitive under water. I don’t know how to go into my own emotional waves of “What is going on? How did this happen?”
And I do believe for me it was a divine appointment because from the moment we decided to get divorced to the moment we got divorced, it’s like a whirlwind of six weeks, and almost like a greater force took over for both of us that we needed to have separate experiences. And it was just destiny, soul destiny, to grow separately in this way.
I think we also were a bit co-dependent. And it was holding me back… it was radical. I would’ve never consciously chosen it. My soul chose it.
Claire: But it’s hard to recognize, isn’t it? What our soul chooses is not always the easiest path.
Sonia: Exactly! The other thing that I had to fight, and I think I did, because of my spirituality, and because of my deep spiritual convictions and training, is not to be a victim.
I was able to feel my feelings without feeling like, “This was unfair and unfortunate. And why did this happen to me?” And I’m proud of myself for that because, boy, it was tempting.
Claire: I’m sure. And what do you say to people who feel when things go wrong, “But I’ve led a good life. I’ve led a spiritual life. I followed the teachings. I’m on the way to enlightenment. So why me”? What do you say to them?
Sonia: I’d definitely say you have to reframe it as that we don’t get rewarded for being good boys and girls as much as we have to remember our souls came to learn certain things. And maybe non-attachment and surrender and letting go and unconditional love and forgiveness (those are our big lessons) are all part of that. And they come in this form.
So, it’s not a failure. I definitely am expecting people to look at me, when they read this and go, “What a failure!” It would be easy, but it’s not a failure to say, “Look, I’m here to live life full face on, 100%. Even if it is horrendously painful, it’s truthful. I’ll go for truth as my reward; authenticity versus comfort and security.”
Claire: It is very truthful. And you do lay yourself bare. But I’m surprised that you say that you think people will judge you. Is it fear of judgment that stops people being honest?
Sonia: I think so which is why I was willing to write this. It’s like I’d rather take the risk of being judged if it could encourage another woman to live beyond the safety zone.
And I read for people, Claire. I read for women all the time who have just succumbed to lives of lack. They’re just clinging to security, and their souls are dead. I experience this a lot with clients, a lot.
It doesn’t mean get a divorce, but it means break out of the identity that you so feel keeps you safe. If it’s not feeling clear and liberated inside, then find the courage to push those boundaries.
Claire: It’s very hard if you don’t have the label of “mother” or the label of “wife” or the label of a job title that means something to you.
Sonia: You’re right! I lost my identity. I didn’t expect it! I just did not expect that. I didn’t realize I had that identity until it was gone. Then I was like, “Whoa! Who am I now?”
Plus, I do think, culturally, there’s a lot of pressure. I even had one friend say to me, “Well, there are other women who are man-less in the world. You’ll be okay.” So, there’s a whole cultural undertone as well, that your identity is who you’re with instead of who you are.
So, I just decided on a soul level apparently that these were the lessons I was going to dive into.
Claire: Well, you certainly dived in with complete abandon. Paris! It makes a great story. It’s very entertaining as well. But in a sense, it doesn’t have to be Paris, does it?
Sonia: No, it doesn’t which is how I ended the book. It’s like, “No, it doesn’t matter. It has to be an internal liberation.”
I feel like if we could just say, “I’m not going to be defined by the choices I made 20 years ago or 30 years ago or 10 years ago. I’m going to be defined by who I am today…”
Claire: And does it help that you have daughters?
Sonia: Absolutely! Certainly, it helps that I had the daughters that I do have because they helped me and they were in it with me, but they didn’t cuddle me. They pushed me. They looked to me to be an example too. And they were my friends. They were my witnesses, my mirrors, my truth serum.
Plus, the whole family broke apart, so they too had their loss of family identity. It was not just me.
Claire: It’s a very courageous book because you do show yourself in the raw, but for your daughters as well. Their parents’ lives are being lived in the public domain. Were they okay about this? Were they happy for you to write this?
Sonia: I think it’s how I live anyway. When I’m teaching my classes, when I’m with my students, I’m very authentic, and I’ve always been very transparent. I’ve never put on a façade.
So, they know me, and my students know me, to be this person who would write this kind of book. And I feel like it’s not embarrassing to be honest. I’d rather say if I can be honest, then maybe you can be honest, maybe we can all be honest, and then live a little bit less stressful.
Claire: That’s a very good lesson in life, isn’t it?
Sonia: So, it is what it is. And I feel good about it because I feel that it might give other people permission to —especially as you get older—stop just living in fear. Live to the edges to the end.
Claire: You couldn’t have picked a tougher place than Paris I think.
Sonia: Like I said, Paris was my tough love teacher. She insists on beauty, inside and out.
Claire: Yeah, that’s very, very true. So, what’s in store for you next, Sonia?
Sonia: I honestly don’t know. I have no idea! I’m listening. I’m listening to my heart and the universe. I honestly have no idea.
Find out more
- Waking Up in Paris: Overcoming darkness in the city of light by Sonia Choquette (£20 hardcover, £16 kindle, Hay House, on sale 22 April).